I want to give this movie a hug. A big, bear hug. The “picking up an old friend from the airport” type of hug. Because once you’re done with the Saturday morning wholesome goodness that is Shazam!, your heart will be three times the size it was before you entered the cinema and a warm feeling of joy will rush over you as you leave. It’s a chunk of comic book movie perfection.
Set in Philadelphia, Shazam! follows foster kid, Billy Batson, a young delinquent in the search for his mother who seemingly abandoned him when was a child. After some hijinks that involves our young hero procuring the services of a police vehicle and its portable database within, Batson is shipped off to yet another foster family. It’s here he meets the beating heart of the film, Freddy Freeman (a bloody delightful Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero obsessed disabled teen who latches onto Batson and almost never lets go. Following an altercation with some bullies, Batson is whisked away to the lair of The Wizard Shazam (Djimon Honsou) an elderly being of magic in need of a champion pure of heart to pass on his powers to. All Batson has to do is say the word.
If Superman is about truth, justice, eternal optimism and hope, Shazam! is the purest form of wish fulfillment committed to the big screen thus far and, on some level, probably one of the most relatable superheroes. What 14 year old wouldn’t want the ability to transform into a near god like being with just a word? But for all the joy in seeing Zachary Levi being wonderfully charming, it’s the story of family at the centre of the film that will catch movie goers off guard and tug at the heartstrings. Asher Angel is incredibly endearing as the young Batson, a kid hardened by the system but still open to the love of a family. Grazer’s Freddy is the energetic puppy dog of the film, eagerly seeking the companionship of his new found brother and wanting to share in the glory and the fun (so. much. fun) of Billy’s immense powers. But it’s Levi who shines the brightest. For those of us familiar with the series Chuck we all most likely had inklings of what Levi could bring to the role, but here he takes those expectations and flies off with them. The sheer innocence and wonder he brings to the character filled my heart and the film works best when Levi gets to dig deep into the man / teen aspect of his role. When he and Grazer play off each other, discovering what Batson / Shazam is able to do, the film soars and you’ll find it difficult to wipe the smile from your face. Even Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana, as dark as his character can get, is given a level of multi dimensionality that can often be absent with such villains. You may be horrified at what he’s capable of but on some level there are glimpses of his humanity that stop him from being overly cartoonish.
Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) DC and Warner Bros have managed to shirk the grit and drab of past films and made something that not only appeals to kids, but reminds adults of what it was like to play superheroes. You’ll feel like you’re back in your childhood home as an 8 year old, downing sugary cereal while inhaling the greatness that is Saturday morning cartoons. It’s a reminder of more innocent times and the happiness we used to experience (and still can). It’ll make you lighter on your feet and chipper in your attitude. And, if nothing else, Shazam! reminded me that I still believe in heroes.